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More than 400 people infected with an HIV epidemic in southern Pakistan



In this image, made on May 9, 2019, a Pakistani paramedic guards took blood samples from a child to test for HIV in a state hospital in Rato Delo in the Larkana area of ​​southern Sindh province.
AFP

Authorities say the epidemic may be associated with gross negligence or malicious intent by a local pediatrician

Parents nervously watch how their children are waiting to be tested for HIV in a village in South Pakistan, where thousands of people have been infected by a doctor using an infected syringe.

Surrendered to keep the line running, the police scanned the troubled crowd as the families crashed into one of the five screening rooms created last month in the village of Vassayo, on the outskirts of Larkana in the Sind province.

Health authorities say that over 400 people, many of them children, have tested HIV-positive in recent weeks. doctors.

Anger and fear continue to rise in the desperately poor village affected by the epidemic, which according to the authorities may be related to gross negligence or malicious intent by a local pediatrician.

"They come from the dozens," a physician says in an improvised clinic with the lack of equipment and staff to treat the growing number of patients.

Muhart Pervez is eager to try out his daughter, such as the worry that recent fever may be related to the epidemic. For others, their biggest fears have already become reality.

Nissar Ahmed arrived at the clinic in a fierce search for a drug after his one-year-old daughter had a positive result three days earlier.

– I curse [the doctor] who has caused all these children to be infected, "he says angrily.

Near Imam Zadi is accompanying five of her children to be investigated after her grandson has received a positive result.

"The whole family is so upset," she told AFP.

Others worry that their children's future is irreparably damaged after HIV infection, especially in a country whose masses of rural poor have a poor understanding of the disease or access to treatment.

– Who will play with? And when she grows up, who would want to marry her? asks a tearful mother from a nearby village who has asked not to call her four-year-old daughter, who has just received a positive result.

"Helpless"

Pakistan has long been considered a low-prevalence country, but the disease is growing at an alarming rate, especially among intravenous drug addicts and prostitutes.

With about 20,000 new HIV infections reported only in 2017, Pakistan currently has the second fastest growing HIV incidence in Asia, according to the UN.

Pakistan's growing population suffers from additional burdens due to insufficient access to quality healthcare after decades of under-investment by the state, leaving poor rural communities particularly vulnerable to unskilled doctors.

"According to some government reports, some 600,000 doctors work around the country and around 270,000 practice in the Sind province," said UNAIDS.

Provincial health officials also note that patients are at particular risk of contracting diseases or viruses in those clinics where injections are often pushed as a major treatment option.

"In order to save money, these charlatans will inject multiple patients with one syringe, which may be the main cause of the spread of HIV," said Sikandar Memon, Provincial Program Manager of the AIDS Control Program.

The large number of unskilled physicians, along with the "reuse of syringes, dangerous blood transfusions and other dangerous medical practices," have led to a leap in HIV in recent years, says Bushra Jamil, an infectious disease expert at Aga Khan. University of Karachi.

"The widespread medical abuses without any effective checks and oppositions cause recurrent outbreaks in Pakistan," Jamil said.

Authorities investigating the Sind outbreak say the accused doctor has also shown positive HIV results.

From a runaway prison cell in the nearby town of Ratodor, he denies the charges and allegations that he deliberately injected his patients with the virus while complaining about being jailed with ordinary criminals.

But for parents of a newly diagnosed investigation means little if they are unable to provide access to better information and the necessary medicines that can help prevent the deadly AIDS virus.

"We are helpless, I have other children and I am afraid they can catch the disease," says another mother whose daughter recently received a positive HIV test.

"[Please] send medicine for our children to be cured. If not, all our children will die, right?


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